The long-abandoned building at 1659-1669 Grand Avenue, formerly the home of Cat-Man-Do Restaurant, has been declared condemned by the City of St. Paul and will be demolished over the next few months.
The building, located across from Shish and just east of the Grand Cambridge Apartments, has been a nuisance to Macalester over the years, according to High Winds Fund Director Tom Welna.
The building has over 130 code violations, which include exposed wiring, no heat and water, gas lines not kept to code, obstructed exits and walls and roofs in drastic need of repair. The City of St. Paul declared the building “unfit for human habitation” earlier last year, and the building’s owner — Grand Heritage Properties — evicted the tenants of the seven residential units in April. On September 15, the City declared the building an official nuisance, which required the property owner to either bring the building up to code or demolish the building on their own dime.
The condemnation “prompted us to become immediately concerned about the possibility of a fire or explosion potentially putting students in GDD, Grand Cambridge [Apartments] and the Cultural House in harm’s way,” Welna said. At that point, the college intervened and began petitioning for the building’s demolition.
Welna said the building’s condition has been worsening over the past 25 years, and has definitely accelerated over the past six to eight years. Numerous complaints have come in about the building. In addition to the code violations, it has been infested with rats and bedbugs and repeatedly covered in graffiti.
“We don’t believe it is financially feasible [or prudent] for anyone to adequately address the 139 code violations cited in the code compliance review — let alone restore it to some standard of historic preservation. We also have no faith that the current owners will undertake to make even the most basic repairs anytime soon,” Welna said.
President Brian Rosenberg appealed to the city in November and called for the building’s demolition, saying it is “an increasing hazard in an otherwise wonderful neighborhood [and] it is past time for the building to come down.” In his letter to the city, Rosenberg went on to say that if the building remains standing, it will be a direct risk to Macalester students.
“The safety of those students is something I think about every single day. Surely there must be a point by which all of us say ‘enough,’” Rosenberg wrote.
The Macalester-Groveland Community Council, the district council that governs the neighborhood and offers input to the city on land use decisions, called for the building to undergo immediate repairs or be demolished.
The Minnesota Historical Society intervened and questioned whether the building had historical significance, a designation which would make demolition far more difficult. Despite the building owner and numerous neighbors of the building expressing opposition to a historic status, the city’s Historic Preservation Committee called for a moratorium on demolition to see if the building had an historic status.
Granting the building historic status would require the current owner, or any future owners, to make extensive repairs to address all the code violations. In his letter to the City, Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton said that any historic designation would prevent future buyers from showing interest in this property, as the current owner has shown no desire to make the necessary repairs.
On December 16 of last year, the St. Paul City Council voted unanimously to ignore any recommendations on historic status and order the building demolished at the cost of the owner.
The building was originally built in 1891 and is the oldest existing building on this section of Grand Avenue. It is the original home of Stoltz Dry Cleaners, which currently sits at the southeast corner of Grand and Snelling, and previously housed a grocery store and the famous Hungry Mind Bookstore.
Most recently, the building housed Cat-Man-Do restaurant, which closed a few years ago, and Daybreak International Bookstore, which was quickly shut down after the building was condemned and relocated to Minneapolis.
The City ordered that demolition begin by February 1 and conclude by May 1. While the actual demolition of the building will take just a few days, months of preparation will be necessary to address environmental concerns, remove asbestos, disconnect utilities and prepare the site for demolition. The Department of Safety and Inspections will issue demolition permits to a licensed contractor, and ensure that the building’s neighbors — one of the most prominent being Macalester — are notified about the demolition when it takes place.
After the building’s demolition is completed, the future of the site will still be up in the air. No concrete plans for redevelopment exist and the site will presumably remain a vacant lot for the time being. However, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Wednesday that Apple is looking at this site to open a potential Apple Store, along with two other parcels farther east on Grand.
Macalester College owns property on three sides of this building — Grand Cambridge Apartments to the west, George Draper Dayton Hall to the north and the Patagonia parking lot to the east. According to Welna, the college is interested in this site, yet “not at any [specific] price.” While Welna states that the lot “would be very nice to have” following its demolition, he added that either redevelopment by a private developer or use as a vacant lot would already be a vast improvement over its current condition.